With the holidays upon us, take a traditional approach to photography to preserve those special memories.
Film photography is back. What once faded into the background as digital cameras became mainstream is now growing in popularity. Analog cameras are finally leaving their place on thrift store shelves and being dug out of family storage closets. And, with accessibility provided by the internet, developing supplies are relatively easy to get–for those willing to DIY. Currently, the Paterson Universal film tank (a nifty contraption used for at-home developing) is one of B&H Photo Video’s top-selling online items. In addition to this popular photography store, sites like Amazon also provide developing equipment, film, and used analog cameras.
While many developing options exist, some people are choosing to develop their own film. And maybe surprising, like the equipment, it’s pretty easy to get a hold of (after doing it a time or two). For those willing to take a chance, as well as invest a little into their film hobby, here is an easy way to get started developing color film.
What you’ll need
- C-41 color developing kit
- Paterson Universal film tank
- Amber 32oz. Bottles (x3)
- Small funnel
- Bottle opener
- Paterson film squeegee
- Binder clips/clothespins
- Stopwatch/timer app on phone or computer
- Optional: A friend to help keep time and hold items
Mixing and preparing chemicals
- The Unicolor C-41 color developing kit will include the powder forms of developer, blix, and stabilizer.
- Use the three 32 oz. amber bottles to mix the powders with water following the instructions included with the developing kit. Make sure the water is around 40°C. The chemicals must be at specific temperatures for developing, so starting at around 40°C will be helpful.
- After preparing the chemicals, check their temperatures. This is essential to the developing process. For accuracy, measure in Celsius. Developer must measure between 39-41°C (102.2-105.8°F). Blix must be between 37-43°C (98.6-109.4°F). Stabilizer does not need to be a specific temperature.
- Depending on the current temperature, the chemicals must be either heated or cooled. Do this by filling a sink or tub with either hot or icy water and setting the bottles in. Use the thermometer to check the temperature periodically so that the chemicals do not get too hot or too cold. Otherwise, extra time must be provided for them to reheat or cool down.
- Before moving on to the next step, make sure the chemicals are within the correct temperature range and have been removed from the tub or sink if they were being heated or cooled.
Setting up developing area
- Find a ventilated room with a sink that can be used for developing. The room must be able to be made pitch black.
- Locate a place where the film can be hung up to dry after it is developed. String or clothesline can easily be set up between furniture along with binder clips to attach the film.
- Set up materials in the developing space. Make sure the film roll, Paterson Universal film tank (which includes a film reel, the tank itself which holds the reel and chemicals, a lightproof, and an agitation stick), scissors, and bottle opener will be accessible in the dark.
- Double check that no light will seep into the room once the lights are out. Remove nightlights and cover any cracks under doors.
- Turn off the lights.
Pictured: Omega film tank with lid and reel. For this set, simply turn the tank back and forth gently instead of using an agitation stick.
Setting up the tank
Opening the film canister
- In the dark, use a bottle opener to uncap the film roll. This might take a couple tries.
- Pull the film out and unroll it. Use the scissors and cut off the tapered end so that the width is even with the rest of the roll. Then, cut off the end taped to the metal or plastic spool.
Loading the reel
- First, find the reel. With your fingers, locate the small ball bearings on the reel. Insert one end of the film here and begin winding the reel to load the film.
- Continue until the entire roll of film is in the reel. It helps if the film is loaded in the direction it curls.
- After the reel is loaded, set it in the tank and put the funnel-shaped lid in place.
- Once the lid is in place, the lights can be turned back on. The lid will block out the light while allowing the chemicals to be poured in and out of the container.
Developing the film
- Make sure you have a phone or stopwatch to keep time.
- Then, pour the developer into the tank, stopping at the fill line. Start the timer.
- Leave the developer in for three minutes and thirty seconds while agitating the tank for the first ten seconds of every minute. Do this by inserting the agitation rod into the tank and turning it back and forth.
- When the stopwatch reaches 3:30, use the funnel to quickly pour the developer back in its bottle. All of the chemicals can be reused for additional developing. The instructions on the developing kit will specify how many times they can be used.
- Blix destroys the developer and keeps your film from becoming overdeveloped. It also acts as a fixer, which will keep the developed film from fading.
- Pour the blix solution into the tank and agitate continuously for six minutes using the agitation stick. Afterwards, return the blix to its bottle.
- Be careful that the blix does not mix with any developing solution outside the tank. It will destroy it.
- Keeping the lid on, rinse the tank for three minutes in the sink. This will remove chemical residue. Simply fill the tank with water, swirl it around, dump it out and repeat.
- After rinsing, pour in the stabilizer and leave it in for one minute, after agitating for the first ten seconds. Then, pour it back into its bottle.
- Open the lid and pull out the reel. Carefully take the film off of the reel and hang it up using the binder clips and string.
- Once hung, carefully squeegee the film to rid of excess water. Let dry.
- When the film is no longer tacky is it ready for scanning.
Not ready to develop film yourself?
Here are some alternative options.
The Darkroom (thedarkroom.com): The Darkroom is an online company that specializes in film development. From 35mm film to single-use cameras, simply send in undeveloped film and The Darkroom will develop it, scan it, and provide a CD copy and online download of your photos. They also offer prints for an additional fee.
Local photography shops: While the option of developing film has disappeared from most photo centers, such as the ones in supermarkets and drugstores, specialized photography shops still exist here and there. A quick internet search will bring up ones that still offer film development and scanning. Various shops sell the equipment for DIY development as well.